The Supreme Court said Monday that it would decide whether it violates free speech guarantees for California to require "crisis pregnancy centers," which counsel against abortion, to tell patients that the state offers contraception services and abortion assistance.
The case is one of three raising First Amendment concerns that the court announced it will hear early next year. Another involves a Minnesota law that bans wearing political messages at polling places. The third stems from the arrest of a man who spoke out against "corruption" at a Florida city council meeting.
The California case promises to be a high-profile conflict that raises important free speech issues about when a state's intent to regulate the medical profession violates constitutional protections.
"Crisis pregnancy centers" provide services for pregnant women and try to persuade them not to end their pregnancies. But some state legislatures, including California's, have charged that they use deceptive advertising and confuse and even intimidate women who think they are going to receive more neutral abortion counseling.
California's Reproductive FACT Act requires the centers to disclose whether they have medical personnel on staff and to inform women that the state offers subsidized contraceptives and abortion.
A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld the law, saying the state could regulate professional speech and had a valid interest in safeguarding public health. The required sign did not encourage abortion, the judges said, but merely informed patients of available state services.
But the centers said they are targeted because their message is unpopular with the state's leaders.
"The state, rather than using countless alternative ways to communicate its message, including its own powerful voice, instead compels only licensed facilities that help women consider alternatives to abortion to express the government's message regarding how to obtain abortions paid for by the state," says the petition filed by the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates.
The case is NIFLA v. Becerra.
With the acceptance of the cases, the term will be heavy with First Amendment challenges.
The court next month hears what could be the marquee case of the term, when it examines whether a Colorado law that says a baker must make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple violates constitutional protections against compelled speech. The baker says creating such a cake would be an endorsement of the marriage his religious beliefs do not allow.
The polling-place case the court accepted Monday challenges a Minnesota law prohibiting voters from wearing T-shirts or political badges, buttons or other insignia with overtly political messages.
Violators are asked to cover up or remove the items, but elections officials are told not to bar them from voting.
Andrew Cilek, executive director of the Minnesota Voters Alliance, was delayed from voting in 2010 because he wore to the polls a T-shirt with a tea party logo and a button that said "Please I.D. Me."
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit upheld the law, saying it was intended to maintain "peace, order and decorum" at polling precincts. At least 10 other states have similar laws.
"This is an encouraging day for the cause of free speech and freedom of expression," said Wen Fa, an attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing the voters group.
"With this case, the Supreme Court has an opportunity to strike a blow for core constitutional freedoms, by declaring that Minnesota can't turn polling places into First Amendment-free zones."
The case is Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky.
The Florida case means a return to the Supreme Court for Fane Lozman, who previously won a landmark ruling from the court that said his floating home was a house, not a vessel subject to maritime seizure laws.
This time, Lozman is suing because of his arrest at a 2006 Riviera Beach City Council meeting. He was never prosecuted on charges of disrupting the meeting, and he then sued the city, charging that the arrest was retaliation and violated his free speech rights.
A jury and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled against him. They said because there was probable cause for the arrest, he could not bring his suit.
Represented by lawyers at the Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Center, Lozman says lower courts are divided on the issue of whether a finding of probable cause is enough to defeat a claim of retaliatory arrest.
"Recent years have seen a fresh surge of civic engagement, much of it involving criticism of the government," Lozman said in his petition to the court. "Thus, the risks of retaliatory arrests remains a pressing concern."
The city council says the decision to arrest Lozman was made by the police officer, even though a council member had warned Lozman not to continue his tirade against government corruption during the public comments portion of the meeting.
The case is Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach.